Lawyers with the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline Join Calls for Day of Remembrance for Mosque Attack

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

VANCOUVER, BC – Lawyers with the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline are joining other groups across Canada to call on the federal government to designate January 29th as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.” January 29th is the anniversary of the 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque by a far-right extremist that left six Muslim men dead and 19 others wounded.

In 2016, nine legal organizations and several concerned individual lawyers came together to launch the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline. The Hotline provides people who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim and who have experienced discrimination with free, confidential legal advice and information. The number is 604-343-3828. Members of the public can learn more about the service on the Islamophobia Hotline website at www.islamophobiahotline.ca

“The January 29th mosque attack is part of a larger—and escalating— pattern of bigotry and hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in Canada,” said Zool Suleman, a Vancouver lawyer who volunteers with the hotline. “As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.”

“Islamophobia can be experienced in many different ways,” said Sarah Khan, staff lawyer at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “We have heard reports of harassment, violent attacks, racial profiling, property destruction and threats. Islamophobia affects everyday Canadians as they go about their lives, their schooling and their work. As a legal community, it is our duty to pull together and ensure that people who are affected by this racism are able to protect their rights.”

“We want to empower people to respond to this discrimination by making legal support more readily available,” said Aleem Bharmal, “Many people who experience this sort of discrimination might not even know that there may be legal options available to respond, depending on what happened, such as filing a discrimination complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. We want to make sure people can get the legal advice and assistance that they need.”

“Discrimination against Muslims, and people perceived to be Muslims, is an intolerable and ongoing reality in Canada,” said Hasan Alam, a Vancouver lawyer who volunteers with the hotline. “It’s important to make sure that people who experience this hateful treatment can access help, which could include filing a complaint or contacting the authorities.”

The hotline was launched with the support of Access Pro Bono Society, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Community Legal Assistance Society, the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Western Chapter, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers – BC, and the South Asian Bar Association of BC.

For more information, please contact:

Hasan Alam             778-995-6786
Aleem Bharmal       604-673-3126
Sarah Khan              604-687-3063
Zool Suleman          604-685-8472

Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf Files Human Rights Complaint Against St. John Ambulance  

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

VANCOUVER, B.C. – On Wednesday, January 24, 2018, the Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf (“OVAD”) filed a human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance for refusing to provide Sign language interpretation for Deaf students in its first aid courses.

OVAD says that St. John Ambulance is not meeting its duty to accommodate Deaf students, and is filing the complaint on behalf of all Deaf British Columbians who have experienced harm from this absence of accommodation.

First aid training and certification provide British Columbians with career advancement opportunities and, most importantly, the ability to help others and save lives in an emergency. Denying Deaf British Columbians equal access to first aid training and certification therefore limits their full participation and inclusion in our communities.

Gordon Rattray, OVAD Treasurer, stated: “OVAD took on this case because enough is enough. Deaf people need first aid skills just like everyone else. This could be a matter of life or death in an emergency situation.”

“We are thrilled that OVAD is pursuing this human rights complaint on behalf of Deaf people across British Columbia. The inaccessibility of St. John Ambulance classes has long been a source of frustration and pain in our community,” said Kimberly Wood, the President of the Greater Vancouver Association of the Deaf (GVAD).

Kate Feeney, the lawyer representing OVAD, stated: “Deaf individuals have a right to Sign language interpretation when accessing both public and private services, except where it causes undue hardship. It is therefore our view that St. John Ambulance – one of the largest and most recognized providers of commercial first aid training in Canada – is required to provide Sign language interpretation to Deaf students.”

For more information, please contact:

Kate Feeney
BCPIAC Staff Lawyer
Ph: 604-506-9271           

Gordon Rattray
Treasurer, OVAD
Email: gords@shaw.ca     

Kimberly Wood
President, GVAD
Email: gvadpresident@gmail.com

OVAD v SJA Media Backgrounder

Canadian Association of the Deaf Guide on Terminology

Poverty Law Legal Aid Services

The Honourable David Eby, QC
Attorney General of British Columbia and
Minister responsible for Liquor, Gaming and ICBC
Rm 232, Parliament Buildings
501 Belleville St., Victoria, B.C. V8V 1X4

Dear Attorney General Eby:

Re:      Poverty Law Legal Aid Services

We understand that your government is considering funding for poverty law legal aid services, and write to provide some recommendations on how these services could be structured in the short and long terms. The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) is a non-profit social justice law firm that advances the interests of groups that are generally unrepresented or underrepresented in issues of major public concern. One of BCPIAC’s mandate areas is to improve access to legal aid services.

In 2010, the Public Commission on Legal Aid, chaired by Leonard Doust, QC, was established in order to “engage with British Columbians about the future of legal aid in the province.”[1] We wholly endorse the recommendations contained in the Commission’s 2011 final report, entitled Foundation for Change: Report of the Public Commission on Legal Aid in British Columbia (the “Doust Report”).[2]

The Legal Services Society delivered poverty legal aid services via community law offices and Native community law offices around the province until 2002, when poverty legal aid was eliminated from LSS’s mandate and budget. There are virtually no government-funded poverty law services today. The Law Foundation of BC has provided direct funding for anti-poverty and social justice lawyers and advocates over the past years; however, despite their best efforts, a large gap in service remains.

Poverty legal aid broadly covers issues that threaten a person’s ability to meet basic needs (such as shelter, food, and other necessities of life), or that threaten a person’s ability to earn a livelihood. More specifically, these issues may include:

  • Income security matters, such as:
    1. access to government benefits (e.g., provincial income assistance, Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, Worksafe BC, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, criminal injury compensation).
  • Employment issues, such as:
    1. employment standards;
    2. wrongful dismissal; and
    3. occupational health and safety.
  • Housing issues, such as:
    1. residential tenancies and violations of tenants’ legal rights;
    2. access to subsidized housing;
    3. foreclosures;
    4. housing on reserve land; and
    5. co-operative housing.
  • Debt issues, such as:
    1. unfair lending practices;
    2. bankruptcy; and
    3. debtor harassment.
  • Consumer issues, such as unconscionable transactions.

As observed in the Doust Report, the most vulnerable members of our society need poverty law legal aid:

Clients that typically have poverty law problems may be the most vulnerable in our society as they often have very low levels of education and comprehension, mental health and addiction issues, and have experienced significant trauma. People living in poverty are often dependent on government benefit programs and administrative decision makers, which often have systemic unfairness and accessibility problems. In this context, many people with low incomes are unable to effectively assert their rights without legal advice and representation. Legislation governing poverty law issues is complex and expertise is required. Furthermore, common law rules not apparent in the legislation can impact on process and decision-making, a concept that is generally mystifying to individuals without legal training.[3]

Further, providing poverty legal aid services is an integral step toward meeting your government’s commitment to reducing poverty in BC. Where unrepresented litigants cannot effectively make their case, they may be denied access to legal rights and protections to which they are otherwise entitled. As observed by the Doust Report, “access to these legal entitlements and protections can mean the difference between having a safe place to live or living on the streets, between having food, or going hungry. Inadequate legal aid jeopardizes the survival of our most vulnerable citizens, including people with mental or physical disabilities, the elderly, and single mothers with young children.”[4]

We urge the government to work toward fully implementing the recommendations of the Doust Report, including a comprehensive system of legal aid clinics and regional service centres, as soon as possible.

We recognize, however, that it would be difficult to get a full poverty law legal aid system up and running right away. In order to provide some services on a more immediate basis, we recommend that the provincial government initially fund lawyers and paralegals to provide a full range of poverty law legal aid services through existing poverty law advocacy programs that are currently funded by the Law Foundation of BC. We recommend that the government fund at least one paralegal or legal assistant to work with each poverty law legal aid lawyer. In addition to handling administrative matters, a paralegal could also provide certain legal services, allowing the lawyer to serve more clients more efficiently.

This model has a number of benefits, including:

  • allowing the government to leverage and enhance existing poverty law legal services;
  • providing access to legal advice and representation through trusted community service organizations throughout the province;
  • providing legal advice and representation on more complex and/or systemic poverty law matters, as recommended by the Doust Report;
  • ensuring that legal aid services have a local context and are community-based, as recommended by the Doust Report;
  • developing specialized services in First Nations communities, as recommended by the Doust Report; and
  • delivering poverty law legal aid services in a cost-efficient manner.

We note that our proposal also aligns with the August 2017 Justice Reform for British Columbia Report, issued by the Community Legal Assistance Society, West Coast LEAF, Pivot Legal Society, and the BC Civil Liberties Association, which recommended a mixed model of legal aid service delivery, including “funding for in-house counsel located in front line service delivery organizations.” [5]

In order to determine which agencies should house the poverty law lawyers and paralegals, we suggest that the Attorney General consult with the Law Foundation, community service agencies currently funded by the Law Foundation to deliver poverty law advocacy services, and non-profit law firms that currently provide some systemic poverty law services.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue further.

Sincerely, 

BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Sarah Khan and Kate Feeney
Staff Lawyers

 

[1] http://www.publiccommission.org/About/Main/

[2] http://www.publiccommission.org/media/PDF/pcla_report_03_08_11.pdf

[3] Doust Report, page 29.

[4] Doust Report, page 16.

[5] http://www.westcoastleaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Justice-Reform-For-BC-1.pdf

 

Accessibility at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction

poverty-reduction-strategy-final Accessibility at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction

The Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will be addressing poverty in BC with a Poverty Reduction Strategy

And we’re thrilled! Now is the time to tackle the serious (and worsening) issues with service delivery at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and raise BC’s shamefully low social assistance rates.

Honourable Shane Simpson
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction
PO Box 9290 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9J7

Dear Minister Simpson:

RE: Accessibility at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. We are thrilled about your strong mandate to improve life for people on welfare and reduce poverty in British Columbia.

We are writing to you to set out some longstanding and worsening problems that low income people have when trying to access income assistance through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (“MSDPR”), and also to propose a number of solutions to these problems.

Accessibility problems

BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (“BCPIAC”) is mandated to address systemic issues affecting low income people across the province. Based on consultations with members of the anti-poverty community, we have recently focused our efforts on improving accessibility at your ministry. We are concerned that there is a growing number of British Columbians who are in need of income assistance and disability assistance (often collectively called “welfare”), and are in fact legally eligible for it, but are struggling to survive without it simply because they cannot navigate the welfare system.

As you know, over the past several years, the recently renamed MSDPR has transitioned from delivering services primarily in person to delivering services primarily through an online portal and over a centralized 1-866 phone line. Wait times on the phone line are extremely long – regularly averaging over 45 minutes – and workers are pressured to keep calls within short, arbitrary time limits whether or not the caller’s issue is resolved. Meanwhile, there have been massive reductions in in-person services, including office closures across the province and removal of discretion for frontline workers. Increasingly, those who go into a Ministry office for help are told to leave and use the online portal or phone line instead. This is the case despite the fact that the Assistant Deputy Minister of Service Delivery has repeatedly told advocates that people who require in-person service can go to the front desk of an MSDPR office for intake.

As a result, in order to meaningfully access MSDPR’s services, most welfare applicants and recipients now require:

  • Generous access to a phone, computer, and internet;
  • Computer and internet proficiency; and
  • Ability to effectively communicate and receive information online and over the phone, through a call centre.

We frequently hear advocates and individuals comment that “a person practically has to be middle class to be on welfare these days.” The assumptions underlying this service delivery model do not reflect the lived experiences of many welfare applicants and recipients. First, social assistance in BC is described by the Ministry itself as “income of last resort”, meaning that applicants must exhaust almost all other income and assets before they are even eligible to apply. Welfare applicants and recipients are very poor and most cannot afford their own phones, computers, and internet access. Second, welfare applicants and recipients disproportionately have characteristics that heighten the need for accessible services and accommodation, including:

  • Physical and/or mental disabilities (including mental illness);
  • Limited ability to express themselves or be understood in English;
  • Status as a recent immigrant to Canada, an Indigenous person, and/or as a member of a racialized group;
  • Limited education; and/or
  • Rural isolation.

In its policy manual, MSDPR recognizes that it has a duty to accommodate its clients, and states that it will accommodate individuals who require in-person services. However, members of the anti-poverty community report to us that in practice, MSDPR rarely provides in-person services to individuals who require them. Instead, it has become common practice in MSDPR offices for staff to refer those that need help navigating MSDPR services to community organizations. The reality to which MSDPR must answer is that many, if not most, welfare applicants and recipients require in-person services as a matter of accommodation. Further, those individuals with the highest accessibility needs also tend to be the most entrenched in poverty, meaning that when they are denied access to welfare, they must survive on little to no money.

We (and many others) have repeatedly raised these problems, and a solution is long overdue. In a systemic complaint to the BC Ombudsperson in May 2015 filed on behalf of nine community organizations across the province, we described these problems in detail, and provided a large body of evidence to demonstrate how MSDPR’s service delivery model is effectively shutting vulnerable people out. A copy of that complaint is attached to this letter as Appendix A. We also made submissions about these issues to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in 2015 and 2016; our submission from October 2016 is attached to this letter as Appendix B.

Despite our work and the vocal opposition to MSDPR’s service delivery changes by those who regularly interact with the welfare system, MSDPR has continued to forge ahead with its move to an increasingly complex, impersonal, and tech-based model of service delivery. In the meantime, vulnerable people are left without critical supports simply because they cannot navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth.

A recent change by MSDPR is illustrative of the incongruence between MSDPR’s service delivery and the people MSDPR serves. For several years, MSDPR has had an online component to its income assistance application, which applicants must complete before proceeding to the next stages of the application process. The online component was inaccessible to many applicants because it was only offered online in English and was complex and time-consuming. In February 2017, despite widespread criticism about the accessibility of the online component, MSDPR moved its entire income assistance application online. Further, the online application now requires applicants to complete the following steps before they can even apply for assistance:

  • Register for an online account on MSDPR’s “MySelfServe” portal, which in turn requires that applicants:
    • Have access to or create a personal email account; and
    • Create a BCelD username and password.

Since its introduction in February, the latest version of the application process has prompted a flood of calls and emails to our office from advocates and individuals confounded by these new requirements. While MSDPR says that it provides remote-based phone support to applicants who require accommodation in completing the online application, this does not respond to the anti-poverty community’s concerns about the online application. First, asking applicants to complete the application over the phone raises many of the same accessibility issues as asking them to complete the application online. It does not at all accommodate applicants who require in-person assistance in order to complete the application. Second, members of the anti-poverty community report to us that in practice, MSDPR refuses to provide phone support to those who request it.

In May 2017, BCPIAC sent an open letter to all candidates in the provincial election outlining the issues with the new online application process, and calling for candidates to commit to addressing them; that letter is attached here as Appendix C.

Recommendations for change

We are so pleased to have a new government that has committed to creating a province “where no one is left behind.” In service of that commitment, we ask that you take steps immediately to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the province can access the supports they need – supports to which they are legally entitled.

Specifically, we recommend the following:

  1. Providing timely in-person individualized assistance to those that need it;
  2. Providing computers and Ministry staff at every Ministry office for the purposes of helping applicants through the application process for income assistance and other supports;
  3. Modifying the online application for income assistance so that it is not mandatory to create an email address and BCelD;
  4. Institute a review of MSDPR’s accessibility as part of the broader poverty reduction strategy; and
  5. Implement accountability and performance measures based on that review.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this letter with you further. We would also be very pleased to work with you in a collaborative manner to improve access to MSDPR services.

Sincerely,

Kate Feeney          Erin Pritchard
Staff Lawyer          Staff Lawyer

cc:
Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction &
MLA (Vancouver-Kensington)

Human Rights Leaders Share Common Vision for BC Human Rights Commission

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

 

Org-Logos Human Rights Leaders Share Common Vision for BC Human Rights Commission

Human Rights Leaders Share Common Vision for BC Human Rights Commission

VANCOUVER, B.C. – On November 17, 2017, the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office (CCPA-BC), the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), the Poverty and Human Rights Centre, and West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF) made submissions to the government in support of a common vision for the BC Human Rights Commission (Commission).

We are calling on the government to grant the Commission a broad mandate to combat systemic discrimination throughout BC, enforce human rights protections under the Human Rights Code and under international law, and work with Indigenous communities to advance reconciliation and address the continuing legacy of colonialism. In order for the Commission to carry out its mandate, our collective recommendations include:

  • Independence: The Chief Commissioner should be an officer of the Legislature to ensure that the Commission is independent from government;
  • Empowerment: The Commission must be empowered to promote awareness, understanding  and respect for and compliance with the BC Human Rights Code through public education, research, strategic litigation, and conducting inquiries and investigations;
  • Accessibility: The Commission must be accessible to individuals and communities throughout BC, in particular those who experience ongoing marginalization.

“The Commission must work proactively to prevent discrimination,” stated CLAS human rights lawyer France Kelly. “For example, it must engage in broad education activities in order to inform and educate employers, landlords, and service-providers about how to implement policies and practices that promote human rights.”

Seth Klein, Director of CCPA-BC added that, “The Commission must be given a strong mandate to broadly advance human rights as understood and articulated in all international United Nations covenants and declarations, including the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“The government should take this opportunity to amend the Human Rights Code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of social condition,” stated Kasari Govender, the Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “This will ensure that human rights protections extend to those experiencing vulnerability on the basis of employment status, source or level of income, housing status (including homelessness), and level of education.”

Sarah Khan, a staff lawyer with BCPIAC, added that “It bodes well that the government has engaged in such a broad consultation about the new Commission. We are hopeful that the Commission will be independent from government and properly resourced so that it can carry out its important work.”

Media Contacts

Kasari Govender, Executive Director, West Coast LEAF
604-684-8772 exec@westcoastleaf.org

Sarah Khan, Staff Lawyer, BCPIAC
604-687-4134 skhan@bcpiac.com

Aleem Bharmal, Executive Director, CLAS
604-673-3126, abharmal@clasbc.net

Seth Klein, BC Director, CCPA-BC
604-801-5121 seth@policyalternatives.ca

Gwen Brodsky, Lawyer, Poverty and Human Rights Centre
604-875-9211 brodsky@brodskylaw.ca

BC Human Rights Commission — Consultation Process

human_rights_commission_engagement_0 BC Human Rights Commission — Consultation Process Join the discussion on human rights in BC.

The Government of British Columbia is re-establishing the BC Human Rights Commission. Your stories, ideas and concerns can help shape the role and priorities of the new commission. Join an online consultation with Parliamentary Secretary Ravi Kahlon and talk about what matters to you. The online discussion is open until November 17, 2017. All feedback will be summarized in a public report by the end of 2017.

Currently, British Columbia has a Human Rights Tribunal that receives and decides on human rights complaints. Is this enough? What about an organization to take a proactive approach to prevent discrimination, deal with it when and where it happens, and face inequalities built into our institutions? That is the work of human rights commissions across Canada—should it be the work of the BC Human Rights Commission?

Have your say. Help shape the future for human rights in BC.

Justice before the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal and Poverty Reduction

Honourable Shane Simpson
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction
PO Box 9290 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9J7

Dear Minister Simpson:

RE: Justice before the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal and Poverty Reduction

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. We are thrilled about your strong mandate to improve life for people in need of welfare and to reduce poverty in British Columbia.

We work closely with the anti-poverty community in British Columbia to address systemic issues affecting people with low incomes across the province. Based on our experience, an important concern for people with low incomes is access to administrative justice, as administrative tribunals are tasked with determining matters that go to the heart of their social and economic security, including housing, social assistance, and supports for people with disabilities. As such, ensuring access to administrative justice must be part of any poverty reduction strategy.

The purpose of this letter is to highlight the anti-poverty community’s pressing concerns about the effectiveness and credibility of the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal (“the EAAT”), and offer recommendations about how to restore public confidence in the EAAT. As you know, the EAAT determines appeals of decisions by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (“MSDPR”), including decisions that result in the refusal, discontinuance, or reduction of income assistance, disability assistance, or a supplement to either (collectively, “welfare”). Access to these critical supports – and the decisions the EAAT makes concerning them – has a direct impact on the alleviation (or entrenchment) of poverty for many British Columbians.

Our predominant concern is whether the EAAT is providing appellants with an effective and fair review process, in light of the dramatic decline in the EAAT’s appeal success rate over 10 years, as illustrated in the table and graphs below.1

Fiscal year Appeals heard Decisions rescinded Success rate
2015/2016 614 47 7.6%
2014/2015 564 30 5.3%
2013/2014 690 45 6.5%
2012/2013 747 87 11.6%
2011/2012 841 125 14.9%
2010/2011 945 216 22.9%
2009/2010 955 322 33.7%
2008/2009 830 246 29.6%
2007/2008 581 157 27%
2006/2007 840 292 34.7%
2005/2006 1120 426 38%
EAAT_graph_001 Justice before the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal and Poverty Reduction

The data also shows a decline in the overall number of appeals heard by the EAAT, which corresponds to the declining success rate. In our view, a reasonable reading of the decline in the number of appeals heard is that the low success rate is discouraging people from pursuing their statutory right to appeal. This view is supported by anecdotal evidence from our conversations with anti-poverty advocates and affected individuals. We are alarmed by the common refrain from anti-poverty advocates that assisting their clients with appeals is a “waste of time and resources,” and that many advise their clients not to bother with appeals at all.

An important aspect of the appeal success rate is that, pursuant to the Employment and Assistance Act, the EAAT applies a reasonableness standard of review to decisions under appeal. According to a Freedom of Information request by BCPIAC to the EAAT, the EAAT’s standard of review conforms to the reasonableness standard applied by the courts. EAAT members are told that:

“On a proper application of the ‘reasonableness’ standard, the Ministry’s decision must be confirmed as long as there is a logical basis for it on the law and the evidence. The panel may interpret the legislation and view the evidence somewhat differently but as long as there is a logical and rational basis for the Ministry’s decision, the panel cannot properly rescind it. A reasonableness standard recognizes that there are times when legislation can be rationally interpreted and applied in more than one way.”

We say that the level of deference represented by the reasonableness standard cannot be reconciled with the EAAT’s purpose and the social and economic interests at stake. However, a deferential standard of review does not explain what amounts to a nosedive in EAAT’s appeal success rate, nor an appeal success rate that has sat below 10% since 2013/2014.

We are not aware of any publically available review of the EAAT’s declining appeal success rate. In November 2016, after consulting with anti-poverty advocates, we wrote a letter to the Chair of the EAAT, Marilyn McNamara, to identify the same concerns set out in this letter and to request more information about the EAAT’s practices and procedures. Ms. McNamara did not respond to our letter, which we have attached as Appendix A to this letter for your review.

EAAT_Rates_Final Justice before the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal and Poverty Reduction

The gravity of this issue is underscored by the EAAT’s insulation from effective judicial review. First, pursuant to the Administrative Tribunals Act, courts apply a standard of review of “patent unreasonableness” to decisions by the EAAT, which itself applies a “reasonableness” standard to MSDPR decisions. In our view, the combined effect of these highly deferential standards of review, which anti-poverty advocates commonly refer to as “reasonableness squared,” may be unconstitutional in that it is virtually impossible to overcome. Second, in the absence of poverty law legal aid, most individuals cannot access the judicial review process at all.  These issues heighten the importance of the EAAT providing a meaningful opportunity to appeal MSDPR decisions, and getting those decisions right.

Recommendations

In sum, people in need of welfare have the right to an effective and respectful review of MSDPR decisions. The declining appeal success rate raises important questions about whether the EAAT is providing such access, resulting in a loss of public confidence in the administrative tribunal tasked with deciding the rights of highly vulnerable members of our society. In order to restore public confidence in the EAAT, we offer the recommendations set out below:

  1. Initiate an audit or review of the EAAT’s practices and procedures to determine whether the EAAT is accurately applying its legislation and meeting its procedural fairness obligations, with a mind to the particular barriers EAAT appellants may face in accessing justice (e.g. mental and physical disabilities, mental health issues, language barriers, low literacy and/or limited education).
  2. Consult with anti-poverty organizations and affected individuals about the structure, process, and terms of reference for the audit or review.
  3. Institute performance and accountability measures for the EAAT as recommended by the audit or review.
  4. Amend the Employment and Assistance Act to change the standard of review for the EAAT from reasonableness to correctness and to allow for broadened opportunities to submit new evidence.
  5. Remove the privative clauses from the Employment and Assistance Act (ss. 24(6) & (7)) such that courts are not required to apply a patent unreasonableness standard to EAAT decisions.
  6. Work with the Attorney General to provide legal aid funding for EAAT hearings and judicial reviews of EAAT decisions.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this letter with you further.

Sincerely,

Kate Feeney          Erin Pritchard
Staff Lawyer          Staff Lawyer

cc:
Hon. David Eby, Attorney General
Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction &
MLA (Vancouver-Kensington)

1 Data has been taken from the EAAT’s Annual Reports, found at http://www.eaat.ca/the-tribunal/annual-report.

Link to original letter including appendices.

Evicted for smudging, First Nations woman files human rights complaint

June 15, 2017 | Josh K. Elliott | CTV News

Link to original article

A First Nations woman from Burnaby, B.C. has filed a human rights complaint after she was evicted for holding a traditional smudging ceremony indoors.

The ceremony, which involves burning sage in a dish and sweeping the smoke around one’s head and body, is a traditional practice among many of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

But Crystal Smith says her landlord, Parminder Mohan, won’t let her do it in the apartment she’s renting.

“I’m being forced to move because my landlord is not allowing me to practice my spiritual ceremonies,” Smith, a single mother from Burnaby, told CTV Vancouver.

So Smith says she’s filing a complaint with the province’s Human Rights Tribunal, in hopes that this does not happen to others.

“The human rights complaint will create grounds for indigenous tenants to say, ‘You can’t evict me because there is this case,'” she said.

Smith’s landlord, Mohan, first noticed her activities from the house’s upstairs apartment in March, and mistook her activities for smoking drugs.

“He smelled it and I got a text message saying that I smell marijuana,” she said.

Smith invited Mohan into her apartment to explain what she was doing, but that didn’t change his mind.

“My upstairs suite is totally full with all the smoke,” Mohan told CTV Vancouver. “I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out.” He added that he had fans running “24-7” at the house, and that the smell “doesn’t go away.”

Smith received a letter two days after her encounter with Mohan, informing her that she had breached the conditions of her tenancy contract.

An arbitrator at the city’s residential tenancy branch ultimately ruled in favour of Smith. However, Mohan continued to pressure her, issuing three eviction notices after the ruling was made.

“I naively thought that, after the RTB decision, that he would abide by their decision, and he hasn’t,” Smith said.

Smith is now turning her attention to her human rights complaint.

“I’m moving, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver

Woman evicted over smudging ceremonies files human rights complaint

June 14, 2017 | Andrew Weichel | CTV Vancouver

Link to original article

An aboriginal woman who claims her landlord tried to evict her for performing traditional smudging ceremonies in her Burnaby, B.C. home has filed a human rights complaint.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian and Haisla First Nations said she’s had problems with her landlord, Parminder Mohan, ever since he noticed her smudging at home with her children in March.

The ceremony involves burning herbs to cleanse the body and spirit; to perform it inside, Smith burns sage in a shell and uses a feather to waft the smoke.

“My landlord happened to be in the upstairs unit and he smelled it,” Smith said. “I got a text message maybe 10 minutes after we’d finished smudging saying that ‘I smelled marijuana.'”

Smith, who told CTV News she doesn’t smoke drugs or even cigarettes, assured Mohan that wasn’t the case, and even offered to demonstrate how smudging works. The landlord wasn’t satisfied, and allegedly told her to stop.

Smith said she has since been served three eviction notices, and faces continued pressure to leave despite a Residential Tenancy Branch ruling in her favour.

“Basically I’m being forced to move because my landlord doesn’t allow me to practice my spiritual ceremonies and practices,” she said.

For Smith, smudging is a crucial part of keeping her son and daughter in tune with their heritage.

Having lost her grandparents when she was a young teenager, Smith said she missed out on learning about aspects of her culture at a young age, and she doesn’t want her children to be deprived in the same way.

“I need my children to grow up in culture so they could love who they are, so that they can grow up and be proud,” Smith said.

She’s given up on remaining in their Burnaby home, however. She intends to move out this week, though she’s disappointed at having to upend her family again so soon.

They have only been living in the apartment for a few months, and previously had a brief stay at a safe house where they moved after she left an abusive relationship.

“It’s frustrating,” Smith said. “We were supposed to be in this home until December at least, and I was even hoping to stay a little longer because me and my children have been through so much.”

Mohan sees things differently. He spoke to CTV News by phone Wednesday, and said he’s actually an accommodating landlord who has become the victim of an unappreciative tenant.

Mohan said he reduced Smith’s rent and gave her a dishwasher when she moved in, but he’s concerned about how smudging might impact the property and her neighbours.

He claims the smudging ceremony he witnessed in March sent smoke wafting in the upstairs suite.

“I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out,” he said. “I had fans running 24/7 trying to get rid of the smell, the smell doesn’t go away.”

Smith said the ceremony does create a smell, but it fades after a day or two. When their dispute was heard by the Residential Tenancy Branch, the arbitrator ruled Mohan hadn’t provided sufficient evidence the smudging had disturbed or adversely affected other tenants.

Most importantly, though, Smith feels smudging is a religious right that shouldn’t open up aboriginal people to evictions or any other form of pressure at home, which is why she has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“The reason I’m fighting, the reason why I’m pushing this forward is so that my children, my great grandchildren, will not have to do this,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson 

Tenant fights eviction for smudging, takes case to B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

June 7, 2017 | Tereza Verenca | Burnaby Now

Link to original article

A Burnaby woman has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal alleging her landlord is denying her the right to smudge.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian Haisla First Nation has smudged – the indigenous practice of burning herbs like sage for prayer or cleansing – for about 15 years.

“It’s been on and off because I really had to find my way,” says the mother of two and UBC master’s student.

Smith’s maternal grandparents died before she was born, and as she puts it, she “didn’t grow up in culture.”

“This is something I had to do on my own. Now that I have children, it’s very important to me to pass on these cultures and these spiritual practices so they can grow up and be proud of who they are.”

At the last home she rented, Smith says she had a unit on the top floor and the landlord had no issues with her smudging.

“They understood the spiritual practice, that it was meant to support me, in my growth and in my culture,” she tells the NOW, noting she received her entire damage deposit back when she left.

Smith moved into a duplex, an address she did not want to disclose for privacy reasons, on Jan. 1, 2017, and signed a one-year lease. But her landlord, Parminder Mohan, was not as understanding, she says.

Since January, Smith has been given three eviction notices, including one to end tenancy early and another one for renovation purposes.

“It’s actually really gross. He’s actually trying to say I’m smoking marijuana and that I’m covering it up with the sage,” she says. “I don’t smoke at all. I’m not doing any damage to the place. It produces white smoke, which does no damage to surrounding walls. The smell does dissipate after maybe a couple days.”

Smith adds Mohan promised her she could move from the basement to the upstairs unit on April 1.

“He won’t let me move upstairs unless I sign an agreement saying I won’t smudge,” she says.

Smith took her eviction notices to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution. In the first meeting, the arbitrator found there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that the tenant has unreasonably disturbed or adversely affected the other tenants.”

The arbitrator dismissed Mohan’s application for an early end to tenancy.

In the meantime, Smith was referred to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for free legal counsel.

After hearing her case, lawyers Kate Feeney and Erin Pritchard advised Smith to submit a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“From a legal perspective, smudging’s a spiritual practice, so it’s protected under the Human Rights Code. … The landlord must justify his conduct,” says Feeney.

As far as Feeney knows, Smith’s case is the first of its kind to come before the tribunal.

“There’s been some cases that touch on similar issues in the prison context, like the right for prisoners to smudge, but not in the residential tenancy context,” she says.

When reached for comment, Mohan didn’t shy away from saying why he wants Smith out.

“What she does is she smokes up the whole place. We agreed there was no smoking or anything like that in the unit,” he tells the NOW, reiterating that he thinks Smith is smoking weed.

The first time Mohan realized Smith was smudging, he says he had to “stagger out” of the house.

“I was absolutely going to go unconscious. That’s how much smoke there was. … All of our air circulates and that’s how unaccommodating she’s trying to be. She doesn’t care. She says, ‘It’s my right,’ but she doesn’t care about anybody else,” says Mohan.

The property owner, who owns both sides of the duplex but lives with his parents down the road, notes he’s a “very, very good, fair landlord,” and has been very accommodating to Smith. He says he put a dishwasher in her two-bedroom suite and reduced her rent from $1,350 to $1,200.

“I thought I was helping her. … I try to do my best, but when tenants try to take control and be vindictive like this, it’s unacceptable,” says Mohan, adding he’ll likely file a fourth eviction notice. “I have cultural and religious practices as well, and they require a lot of incense and burning things, but we have fans; we make sure that our practices don’t disturb other people.”

© 2017 Burnaby Now

Open Letter Regarding Access Barriers to Applying for Income Assistance

To All Candidates in the 2017 BC Provincial Election:

Re:     Access Barriers to Applying for Income Assistance

We are writing to you as a candidate in the provincial election on behalf of more than sixty undersigned organizations to collectively express our concerns regarding chronic and serious barriers British Columbians face when attempting to apply for income assistance. It is our hope that you will pursue this issue, as it affects British Columbians in all corners of the province.

Barriers to accessing income assistance have been steadily worsening over the past several years as the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (the “Ministry”) has increasingly moved to online application processes. This has been coupled with a corresponding reduction in the number of Ministry staff available to provide in person or over the phone assistance to those citizens applying for income assistance. By way of example, fourteen Ministry offices have closed across the province since 2005, while other offices have reduced hours or have been replaced by generic ServiceBC offices. This under resourcing of the Ministry coupled with its insistence on an increasingly technological interaction with the public has led to the entirely foreseeable consequence of downloading much of the responsibility to provide accessible services onto community agencies, such as those signing this letter.

The latest iteration of the online application process creates new and substantial barriers for those who either do not have access to a computer or lack the computer literacy necessary to navigate the online processes. Now, before someone can even apply for assistance, they must complete the following steps:

  • Create an email address (if applicant does not have one, which is the case for many older and/or more vulnerable applicants);
  • Create a My Self Serve account, and wait for an email confirmation link;
  • Create a 4-digit PIN;
  • Create a BCeID user ID and password to log into My Self Serve account;

Since its introduction in February, the latest version of the application process has prompted a flood of calls and emails to our office from advocates and individuals confounded by these new requirements. With permission from the authors, we share the following excerpts:

“The new application process simply doesn’t work for many that need to access income assistance. I recently met with a client who is homeless and does not have a computer – the Ministry told him he was ineligible for in-person intake because our organization could assist him instead.  This is despite the fact that our organization does not generally assist with the application process because we view it as the Ministry’s job to assist, and because it is so cumbersome and time-consuming.  My client nearly gave up applying for income assistance at multiple points, despite being eligible, and I know there are many people who, because they cannot navigate the bureaucratic and technological hurdles, simply give up on the meager support available. In-person assistance is the only method that actually works for the majority of people who need these services.”

-Daniel Jackson, Legal Advocate, Together Against Poverty Society, Victoria

 

“…[I] had a horrible experience with the new on-line system. I was assisting a client a day or 2 after the new system was launched.  Trying to register the client and set up her [My Self Serve] account was a nightmare.  Her appointment ended up being a 2-part appointment b/c we had to wait for her registration number.  The 2nd appointment we completed the on-line application which in my opinion was not ‘streamlined’, efficient or ‘more user-friendly’.  At that time we were unable to download the documents for the application and the client had to physically take them into the office.

-Christine Dunlop, Legal Advocate, Quesnel Tillicum Society, Native Friendship Centre, Quesnel

Our overarching message is that many applicants require in person assistance with the application process – and this help is simply not being provided. Despite repeated assurances that there is now a “supported application” whereby applicants unable to use the online application can contact the Ministry to request telephone intake, there is a complete disconnect between these assurances and the actual experiences of British Columbians attempting to access direct help from the Ministry. In person services are not being provided and wait times on the Ministry’s centralized phone line have averaged over 45 minutes over the past six months.

We ask that all candidates commit to speaking out in favour of making income assistance accessible to those that need it by:

  • Providing timely in person individualized assistance to those that need it
  • Providing computers and Ministry staff at every Ministry office for the purposes of helping applicants through the application process
  • Modifying the online application to eliminate the requirement for an email address and BCeID

We are calling for action in the form of fully resourcing the Ministry to fulfill its duty to the citizens of British Columbia.

Sincerely,

BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Erin Pritchard & Michael Seaborn
Staff Lawyers

c.  Jay Chalke, BC Ombudsperson

Signatories:

  1. Abbotsford Community Services (Abbotsford)
  2. Action Committee of People with Disabilities (Victoria)
  3. Active Support Against Poverty (Prince George)
  4. Africa Great Lakes Networking Foundation (Vancouver)
  5. The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster Eco-Justice Unit (New Westminster)
  6. Atira Women’s Resource Society (Vancouver)
  7. Battered Women’s Support Services (Vancouver)
  8. BC Government and Service Employees’ Union
  9. BC Health Coalition
  10. BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
  11. Burnaby Community Services (Burnaby)
  12. Canadian Mental Health Association (Port Alberni)
  13. Carnegie Community Action Project (Vancouver)
  14. Carnegie Community Centre Association (Vancouver)
  15. Chimo Community Services (Richmond)
  16. Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods (Vancouver)
  17. Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
  18. Community Legal Assistance Society (Vancouver)
  19. Council of Senior Citizen Organizations in British Columbia
  20. Dawson Creek Native Housing Society (Dawson Creek)
  21. Disability Alliance BC
  22. Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House (Vancouver)
  23. Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative (Vancouver)
  24. Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (Vancouver)
  25. Family Tree Family Centre (Kamloops)
  26. First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
  27. First United Church Community Ministry Society (Vancouver)
  28. Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society (Fort St. John)
  29. Golden Family Center (Golden)
  30. Golden Women’s Resource Centre (Golden)
  31. Gordon Neighbourhood House (Vancouver)
  32. Greater Vancouver Food Bank (Vancouver)
  33. Interior Community Services (Kamloops)
  34. Kamloops and District Elizabeth Fry Society (Kamloops)
  35. Kamloops YMCA-YWCA, Violence Against Women Intervention and Support Services (Kamloops)
  36. The Kettle Society Advocacy Service (Vancouver)
  37. Megaphone Magazine (Vancouver)
  38. MS Society of Canada, BC & Yukon Division (Burnaby)
  39. Nelson CARES – The Advocacy Centre (Nelson)
  40. The Nelson Committee on Homelessness (Nelson)
  41. New Westminster & District Labour Council (New Westminster)
  42. Nicola Valley Advocacy Centre (Merritt)
  43. North Shore Community Resources (North Vancouver)
  44. North Shore Homelessness Task Force (North Shore)
  45. Okanagan Advocacy and Resource Society (Vernon)
  46. Opportunities Advocacy Services (Campbell River)
  47. Penticton and Area Access Society (Penticton)
  48. Phoenix Centre (Kamloops)
  49. Pivot Legal Society (Vancouver)
  50. Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre (Prince Rupert)
  51. Quesnel Tillicum Society, Native Friendship Centre (Quesnel)
  52. Raise the Rates (Vancouver)
  53. The Realistic Success Recovery Society (Surrey)
  54. Sheila Nelson (Kamloops)
  55. South Peace Community Resources Society (Dawson Creek)
  56. STEPS Forward – Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Society (Vancouver)
  57. Paul’s Advocacy Office at St. Paul’s Anglican Church (Vancouver)
  58. Terrace and District Community Services Society (Terrace)
  59. Together Against Poverty Society (Victoria)
  60. 59. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (Vancouver)
  61. Vancouver South Presbytery Community Advocacy Programme (United Church of Canada) (Vancouver)
  62. Wachiay Friendship Centre (Courtenay)
  63. West Coast LEAF (Vancouver)
  64. Vancouver District Labour Council (Vancouver)
  65. Vancouver Island Human Rights Coalition (Victoria)
  66. Victoria Disability Resource Centre (Victoria)

Constitutional challenge to inadequate legal aid services launched today

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

VANCOUVER – Today, West Coast LEAF and the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) announce a constitutional challenge against the Province of BC and the Legal Services Society for their failure to provide adequate family law legal aid to women fleeing violent relationships. The case is brought on behalf of Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC and two individual women, Nicole Bell and A.B., whose safety, well-being, and relationships with their children have been threatened by the lack of legal aid services available to them in their family law disputes.

In BC, legal aid services in family law are drastically underfunded, having been cut by 60% between 2002 and 2005. Family legal aid is now almost exclusively available to extremely low income people fleeing violent relationships; even then, there are highly restrictive caps on the hours of legal service provided. This leaves many British Columbians going through divorce and custody battles without a lawyer, even in situations of extreme family violence. Since women are statistically lower income earners and more likely to experience spousal violence than men, this reality leaves women and their children particularly vulnerable as they try to navigate the complex justice system without assistance.

Family law is only as good as your ability to enforce it.

Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF

The case launched today alleges that the Province has a constitutional responsibility under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to provide access to the justice system for women fleeing violent relationships or dealing with ongoing situations of abuse from ex-spouses. The plaintiffs will argue that the legal aid scheme – and the discretion exercised under the scheme by the Legal Services Society, which administers legal aid – discriminates against women and children and violates their rights to life and security of the person by putting them at further risk of violence and intense stress.

“Canada and BC have a world class justice system and progressive family laws,” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “But if you cannot afford a lawyer, all of those legal protections are meaningless. Family law is only as good as your ability to enforce it, and the drastic cuts to legal aid over the last 15 years have left enforcement out of reach for most British Columbians, particularly women. The costs to the justice system of accommodating unrepresented litigants, and the costs to the state in providing health care, housing and social assistance to those with unresolved family law problems, are high – the human costs to women and children are much higher.”

The chronic underfunding of legal aid for over a decade has caused harm to many British Columbian families.

Kate Feeney, Staff lawyer at BCPIAC

“When a person working full time for minimum wage does not even qualify for legal aid because their income is deemed ‘too high,’ we know something is deeply wrong with our system,” says Kate Feeney, staff lawyer at BCPIAC. “The current structure of legal aid means that most women have to represent themselves in highly complex family law proceedings. This includes having to cross examine an abusive former spouse on the stand – or even worse, having to give up their legal rights and the rights of their children because they don’t have a lawyer to represent them. The chronic underfunding of legal aid for over a decade has caused harm to many British Columbian families.”

Debbie Henry is a board member and spokesperson for Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC, a grassroots non-profit organization by and for single mothers and one of the plaintiffs in the case. Henry says, “We have heard loud and clear from women in BC that legal aid – or the lack thereof – has played a significant role in their lives and the lives of their children. Without access to a publicly funded lawyer, many women in poverty are not able to get the adequate representation they need to resolve their complex cases, involving child custody issues and protection orders, and must navigate the system in fear and at risk, often facing their abusers in court alone.”

The case, Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC Society et al. v. HMTQ in right of the Province of B.C. et al., is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2018. For more information about the case, see the Backgrounder, Factsheet, and pleadings.

-30-

Media Contact
Basya Laye, Director of Development and Engagement
West Coast LEAF
604-684-8772, ext. 214
development@westcoastleaf.org

Retail Action Network intervenes in Schrenk v BCHRT at Supreme Court

ran-logo-circle-150x150 Retail Action Network intervenes in Schrenk v BCHRT at Supreme CourtThe Retail Action Network (RAN) is intervening in the appeal of a human rights case in the Supreme Court of Canada. Schrenk v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal) is about the extent to which the BC Human Rights Code (“the Code”) applies to discriminatory harassment in the workplace.  BCPIAC has teamed up with Catherine Boies-Parker and Robin Gage, from Underhill, Boies-Parker, Gage and Latimer LLP, to represent RAN in this intervention.

In the decision on appeal, the BC Court of Appeal held that the Code only applies to situations of harassment where the harasser is the victim’s workplace superior. Further, the Court of Appeal appeared to roll back the liability of employers for the harassment of their employees while at work.

As an organization that is made up of retail, food service and hospitality workers, RAN brings the perspective of workers who are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory harassment by workplace superiors, as well as co-workers and customers, due to their insecure and precarious working conditions. RAN says that in order for the Code to fulfil its essential purpose of identifying and preventing workplace harassment, it must apply to situations of harassment regardless of the harasser’s position in the workplace’s organizational chart, including where the harasser is a customer. Further, RAN says that employers must be liable for the harassment of their employees because of their overarching responsibility for maintaining a discrimination-free workplace.

Read RAN’s factum here.

BC woman’s Charter challenge forces provincial government to provide legal representation to all people detained under the Mental Health Act

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

Please note, there is a court-ordered publication ban in place

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A BC woman known as Z.B. has won an important legal victory ensuring that everyone detained under the Mental Health Act has access to legal representation when their continued detention is under review. The BC government has settled Z.B.’s Charter challenge by agreeing to adequately fund legal aid for individuals detained under the Mental Health Act.

mental-health-legal-aid-victory-2-300x300 BC woman’s Charter challenge forces provincial government to provide legal representation to all people detained under the Mental Health ActIn August 2016, Z.B., who was then involuntarily detained and hospitalized, launched a Charter challenge arguing that she had a constitutional right to legal representation at her review hearing. Z.B. could not afford a lawyer and had requested legal aid from the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), which contracts with the government to provide legal aid to involuntary patients. Although Z.B. was eligible to receive legal aid, CLAS had no choice but to deny her request solely because it did not have capacity to provide her with representation at the time of her hearing. It is well documented that the BC government has chronically underfunded legal aid for many years, such that CLAS has been forced to deny legal aid to hundreds of eligible involuntary patients every year since approximately 2009.

On the same day that Z.B. launched her Charter challenge, the BC government agreed to provide her with legal aid for her review hearing. However, Z.B. was determined to help other involuntary patients, who can be not only detained against their will but also forcibly medicated, and demanded a systemic response to her case. In December 2016, after months of negotiations, the BC government agreed to provide CLAS with additional annual funding to enable them to provide legal representation without delay to all involuntary patients who want legal aid for their review hearings and are financially eligible to receive it.

Kate Feeney, a staff lawyer at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) and counsel for Z.B., states, “We want to thank Z.B. for taking on this case and for sharing her very personal story with the public. Her courage during a difficult time in her life resulted in a remarkable systemic solution after years of government inaction.”

“Few rights are more fundamental to human liberty than freedom from unconstitutional or arbitrary detention…”

Caily DiPuma, Acting Litigation Director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which has been a supporter of this case, states: “Few rights are more fundamental to human liberty than freedom from unconstitutional or arbitrary detention – including the right to be free from forcible medical interventions. The outcome in this case ensures that British Columbians involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act receive adequate legal representation as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to “step up for Women’s equality”

West Coast LEAF, a BC organization dedicated to promoting women’s equality through the law, along with a long list of endorsing BC organizations, have called on the BC government and the official opposition to step up for Women’s equality and “commit to implementing – fully and without delay – the UN’s recommendations to demonstrably improve the lives of women in our province”

Read the letter to the BC government and official opposition here. (text below)

West Coast LEAF’s campaign page can be found here.

Read the UN’s recommendations here.

Dear Premier Clark and Mr. Horgan,

WCL-legal-aid-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"We write to ask you to commit to implement, fully and without delay, the enclosed recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The recommendations were issued on November 18, 2016 after the Committee’s review of Canada’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at its 65th session.

We cannot stress enough the importance of implementing these recommendations. Women’s equality in Canada has regressed over the last two decades. In 1995, Canada held 1st place on the United Nations Gender Equality Index; Canada is now at 25th. Recently, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada 35th on gender equality out of 144 countries. To make matters worse, equality for women in BC is lagging behind the rest of Canada on multiple measures. For example:

  • BC consistently has among the highest poverty rates in Canada, and poverty rates for single women, and particularly single women caring for children, are shockingly high. Further, BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.
  • Families led by women parenting alone experience the highest rates of food insecurity in BC, and the rate is higher than the Canadian average for comparable households.
  • The average earnings of women in BC are well below the Canadian average female earnings and the pay gap between male and female workers in British Columbia is larger than the national average.
  • At BC’s current minimum wage, the earnings of a full time, full year worker are below the poverty line and the majority of minimum wage earners are women. In addition, BC maintains a lower liquor server wage despite research showing that dependency on gratuities increases the risk that these mostly female workers will be subject to sexual harassment.
  • Mothers’ workforce participation rates in BC, access to regulated child care spaces in BC, and provincial public investment per space are all below the Canadian average. Meanwhile, parent fees for regulated child care are higher than the national average.
  • Front line services for women and children harmed by violence have been chronically underfunded, despite the fact that BC has a growing rate of domestic violence-related homicides.
  • BC remains the only province without a human rights commission, which means there is little to no systemic education and monitoring related to gender discrimination in key areas such as employment, housing and public services.
  • British Columbia’s per capita spending on legal aid, services that are crucial to enable women to enforce their legal rights and leave violent relationships, is far lower than the national average.

We know that Canada and British Columbia can do better.

WCL-over-incarceration-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"However, Canada, and in particular British Columbia, has a serious implementation gap. For years, Canada and British Columbia have ignored UN treaty body advice and recommendations, to the detriment of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable residents and to the detriment of British Columbia as a whole. Canada has no national mechanism for monitoring and facilitating implementation of treaty body recommendations, and British Columbia has no provincial mechanism for implementation of recommendations within its jurisdiction. Further, there is no mechanism for co-operation between federal and provincial governments on implementation in areas where co-ordination among all levels of government is critical. Because of this, treaty body recommendations tend to be ignored rather than realized in a substantive way through government planning, policy, and programs.

The Canadian and British Columbia governments can take a huge step forward for women and for human rights by immediately beginning to plan for implementation of the CEDAW Committee’s most recent recommendations. The CEDAW recommendations cover a wide range of issues crucial to women’s advancement, many of which are all or partly within provincial jurisdiction: access to legal aid; the gender wage gap and pay equity; housing and poverty reduction; child care; political participation; violence; the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous women; the needs of women with disabilities; detention of racialized women and women with mental health issues; access to abortion; harm reduction strategies; and much more.

Given the legal responsibility and leadership role of the Government of Canada, we have called on the federal government to establish an accountability mechanism and to, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, develop a national gender equality plan so that we can move forward in a coordinated and strategic way to fully implement women’s human rights and advance women’s equality. British Columbia’s commitment and cooperation will be crucial to ensure that implementation is meaningful for women in our province.

The CEDAW Committee recommends two mechanisms for implementation of the Convention rights and treaty body recommendations:

  • WCL-MMIW-shareable-300x300 Campaign calls on BC government and official opposition to "step up for Women's equality"an effective mechanism for ensuring accountability and the transparent, coherent and consistent implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women throughout all jurisdictions (at para 11); and
  • a comprehensive national gender strategy, policy and action plan that addresses the structural factors causing persistent inequalities for women and girls, including those who are Indigenous, Afro-Canadian, racialized, disabled, immigrant, refugee and LGBTQ (at para 21).

Coordinated, robust work to advance women’s equality is particularly timely in light of burgeoning attacks on women’s rights and dignity globally. We urge you to publicly commit to take a leadership role and lead British Columbia to provide a model for other provinces by working with the federal government to take progressive, determined action to implement the CEDAW Committee’s concrete and detailed recommendations. We need action now that demonstrates British Columbia’s genuine commitment to fulfilling women’s human rights.

We look forward to your response and to working with you on a new plan for women’s equality in British Columbia and for the realization of women’s human rights.

Sincerely,

The BC CEDAW Group*

This letter is endorsed by:

Battered Women’s Support Services
BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre
BC Society of Transition Houses
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
Canadian Federation of University Women BC Council
Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Disability Alliance BC
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Hospital Employees’ Union
Ending Violence Association of BC
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Isabel Grant, Professor and Co-Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Justice for Girls
Living Wage for Families Campaign
Lynne Kent, Chair, Learning Disabilities Association of BC
Margot Young, Professor of Law, Allard Hall Law School, University of British Columbia Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Single Mothers’ Alliance BC
Susan Boyd, Professor Emerita, Peter A. Allard Law School, University of British Columbia
Together Against Poverty Society
University Women’s Club of Vancouver
Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter
Vancouver Women’s Health Collective
West Coast LEAF
Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre
Women Transforming Cities

*The BC CEDAW Group is a coalition individuals and organizations committed to advancing the rights of women and girls in British Columbia. Formed in 2002, the Group has participated in United Nations periodic reviews before a variety of treaty bodies, reporting to the UN on BC’s progress. The 2017 BC CEDAW Group includes the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, Hospital Employees Union, Justice for Girls, Poverty and Human Rights Centre, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, West Coast LEAF, Single Mothers’ Alliance BC, and the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective.